The name’s not Bond: where next for 007?

It’s been long enough now since the release of No Time to Die, the latest blockbuster in the Bond mega-franchise, to assume that fans of 007 have now seen the film, and that those who haven’t seen it don’t care about knowing the ending. But just in case there’s anyone out there who’s still trying to avoid spoilers – stop reading now.

The question on everyone’s lips after the usually indomitable agent did, in fact, find time to die at the end of the film was: how can the James Bond series continue without Bond himself?

And continue it will – the familiar phrase “James Bond Will Return” appeared at the end of No Time to Die – which many fans assume will be a prequel. Others thought new agent Nomi might become the star of the next film, but Daniel Craig’s recent assertion that Bond shouldn’t be played by a woman has made that theory seem unlikely. “Why should a woman play James Bond when there should be a part just as good as James Bond, but for a woman?” Craig told the Radio Times in September.

But perhaps, even if a film centred on a female 007 isn’t on the cards, there is scope for a Bondless Bond. It was announced on Thursday that British novelist Kim Sherwood will be writing a trilogy of official Bond sequels in which 007 is missing (Bond wasn’t ever killed in the books). Instead of reanimating Ian Fleming’s beloved character as previous sequels by Kingsley Amis, Sebastian Faulks and Anthony Horowitz have done, Sherwood is going to write about a new cast of double-O agents that have replaced Bond and his contemporaries.

The 32-year-old author of Testament, a novel about the Holocaust, will be the first woman to write a Bond sequel authorised by the Ian Fleming estate. “It’s incredible to have the opportunity to bring the books into the 21st century and create new heroes for our time,” she says “My double-O agents are a diverse ensemble tasked with fighting today’s global threats, identifying a mole in MI6 – and the small matter of finding James Bond, who is missing in action.”

While Sherwood is a fan of the older James Bond films – her grandad, the actor George Baker had roles in You Only Live Twice, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service and The Spy Who Loved Me – she doesn’t think Bond should stay stuck in the past. “James Bond has remained an evergreen symbol for Britain because he changes with us,” she says.

Acclaimed novelist William Boyd, who wrote Solo, the 2013 Bond continuation novel, disagrees however. While he wishes Sherwood “all the very best of luck with her new Bond-style continuation novels”, he has a “vague concern” about modernising the franchise, because he believes “the real, authentic world of Bond” to be “absolutely fundamentally and irrefutably the world of the 1950s and early 60s.”

Anthony Horowitz on the other hand, who is currently finishing his third Bond novel, “can’t wait to read [Sherwood’s] take on the 007 section and to find out who the other agents might be”, calling her a “fresh and inspired choice”.

Several fans think these books suggest a plan to expand the Bond “universe” to become something comparable to Marvel or DC. Almost 70 years since Fleming first started writing Bond’s debut Casino Royale, and 60 years since the Dr No film came out, is it time to broaden out the franchise?

“The elongated, character-populated worlds of Harry Potter and Game of Thrones have been familiar fare to younger readers for over two decades,” points out Mark O’Connell, author of Catching Bullets: Memoirs of a Bond Fan. “That Sherwood could create new 007-minded worlds and personalities is only a good thing for Bond as he moves forwards into the 21st century.”

Jaap Verheul, film studies lecturer and author of The Cultural Life of James Bond, agrees that the announcement of these books is a savvy move by Ian Fleming Publications. It “strategically taps into the renewed popularity of the Bond brand in the wake of the release of No Time to Die and the end of Daniel Craig’s tenure as 007, while simultaneously exploiting the gap in Eon’s production schedule for its future films,” he says.

He also noted that Amazon’s recent acquisition of Metro-Goldwyn Mayer, the company that has distributed all of Eon’s Bond films, offers further opportunity to create a kind of “transmedia storytelling” in which “the theatrical release of new Bond films might come to represent a flagship product in an entertainment franchise built on a range of spin-offs across multiple media platforms.”

Much has been made already about the choice of Sherwood to write these books, as she is so different to those who have taken on Bond before. “To have a contemporary new take on Bond, written from a woman’s perspective, is hugely exciting and will breathe fresh new life into the beloved series,” says Bea Carvalho, Waterstones’s head of fiction.

But O’Connell doesn’t think that Sherwood being a woman is the main thing that sets her apart from other Bond writers. “When Phoebe Waller-Bridge joined the movie Bond world to help write No Time to Die, the headlines went amok with ‘a female woman does Bond!’” he says. What O’Connell finds more interesting is that Sherwood is the youngest author to be invited to write an official 007 tale – and is therefore more likely to attract a younger audience.

But while he thinks it’s “safe to assume that the genders, sexualities, identities and politics of a 2022 world will not get ignored” in these new books, O’Connell is quick to shut down the idea that this trilogy will be a “woke-ification” of the Bond world. “Let us remember that Sherwood is a self-confessed big Fleming and Bond aficionado,” he says. “Her journey and success writing Testament points to a writer that is mindful of the future’s relationship to the past and how wars shift people and politics. That is more Fleming than not.”

Thriller writer Jonathan Grimwood agrees that the choice of Sherwood is a purposeful move to take the Bond franchise in a new direction. “I think if you go for a novelist in her early 30s for Bond whose debut looked at the impact of the Holocaust on three generations of a family you’re already making a statement,” he says.

“I’d personally like to see Bond’s memory relegated to indulgent sighs/rolled eyes by the older OO crew, while the new intake simply get on with the job and their lives. I’ve no idea what will happen, but I hope the novels are going to be grabbed by the scruff of their neck and dragged into the 21st century. Let’s face it, there’s a whole run of OO numbers out there. The potential is endless.”

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